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FionaOutdoors
FionaOutdoors

Why we should walk purposelessly

Have you heard talk of purposeless walking? It’s something of a hot topic just now and describes the activity of going for a walk for no reason other than to go for a walk. By walking purposelessly it’s suggested we are better at thinking and become more creative. The subject is addressed in a new book, A Philosophy of Walking, by Prof Frederic Gros, who is a big fan of the freedom of walking and the mental escape that comes from walking aimlessly. Another writer, Geoff Nicholson, who wrote The Lost Art of Walking, also reckons there is “something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together”. He said: “Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively." In a recent study at Stanford University, it was shown that even walking on a treadmill improves creative thinking.

The opposite of purposeless walking…

….Is purposeful walking. That is, walking for an end goal, such as to get somewhere exact or to lose weight or improve fitness. There is obviously nothing wrong with any of these walking concepts because walking is one of the best ways to stay in shape and if you walk you won’t need a car. But to achieve the mental benefits of walking it’s suggested that the whole walk or some part of the walk must be purposeless.

Famous purposeless walkers

There is historical evidence of the benefits of purposeless walking. Writer Charles Dickens was famous for hiking. He would set out, often at night, to walk up to 20 miles but with no particular direction. The poet William Wordsworth was a walker. When he strolled in the Lake District he become lost in his thoughts and claimed this was great for his writing creativity. Another writer, Virginia Woolf, is also said to have walked for inspiration. She walked in the South Downs and also loved strolling through the parks of London. Then there’s the novelist CS Lewis who thought that even talking could spoil a walk. He is reported as: "The only friend to walk with is one who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared." In the 21st century, another great walker, is the Scottish painter Peter Howson. He said: “If I am feeling stressed or down I walk out the front door and stroll the streets of Glasgow. I have no particular direction. I just walk. I might meet people along the way but mostly I am thinking. It calms me and makes me ready for my painting.”

More about walking purposelessly

Purposeless walking can mean different things to different people and, I would argue, even purposeful walk, for example to the top of a hill or to work, can allow time for purposeless walking, too. You know you are walking purposelessly when you are thinking about nothing more than what’s on your mind. This isn’t thinking about the route, map or destination. It’s a time when your thoughts simply drift aimlessly. When my mind is in this state I find that I have lots of good ideas. I day-dream about the future or come up with ideas for work. I don’t dwell on anything in particular but enjoy the sensation of walking and gently thinking.

Tips for walking purposelessly

  • Just walk and follow a route you already know so you can let your mind go
  • Walk further and with no fixed route
  • Leave your mobile phone and gadgets at home
  • Ban yourself from texting while walking
  • Walk where you do not need a map
  • Don't listen to music or an audio book while walking
  • Walk on your own
  • Walk mindfully
A walking break or holiday would be the perfect way to enjoy hours and hours of purposeless walking.
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